Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Remainders


Garlic chives in full bloom produce an arresting site. Shortly before this photo was taken a tall Lady in Red salvia sported tall spikes of scarlet blossoms in front of this clump of garlic chives; scarlet and bright white together made a striking picture -- unfortunately I didn't get around to taking a photo until the red blossoms had dropped.

Garlic chives bloom relatively briefly in late summer -- for about two weeks or so. During that time the clump of garlic chives becomes a popular dining spot for all kinds of nectar-loving creatures. When the blossoms fade, they are replaced by little green capsules, that in time dry and spit out a black seed each. Dozens and dozens of seeds per clump of chives. Dozens and dozens of viable seed ready to turn into more garlic chives. This can be considered a good thing, or an annoyance. It all depends on where the garlic chives grow. These in my "ornamental" flower beds prove to be an annoyance when they start to spread. So before the little white flowers turn to seed I've got to cut off all the flower stalks.

One of the many visitors that dine on nectar of garlic chive blossoms.
However, I intentionally scattered seed around some fruit trees, where they've created a lovely spattering of starry flowers. Some friends of mine who live in the woods have a large patch of garlic chives (which do taste and smell like mild garlic) along the narrow path to their house. It is quite lovely.

These plants are hardy, suffering through heat and drought with no complaints. And -- I don't know if it's proper to use this term in relation to a non-critter -- fecund, with all of these seeds ready to make babies. I did not realize how persistent these gems are until I recently went to my parents' home for a family reunion. Around the southwest corner of the house, where I planted my first herb garden, garlic chives bloomed. Some of them had obviously been taken down with a string trimmer or mower, but numerous small clumps bloomed. I'm sure my mom didn't plant garlic chives, so the only explanation was that they were remainders from the herb garden I planted as a 16-year-old. Decades have passed since then.

As I've lately pondered about the impermanence of life (as I often do when summer moves into autumn, trees lose leaves, etc. etc.) I came up against something that wasn't quite so fleeting. The original garlic chive plant that I set into the ground decades (I mean decades) ago no longer lives, but its progeny do. The herb garden planted when I was a fledgeling herbalist/herb grower still survives in some form.

I wonder, will the offspring of these chive blossoms flower beneath the red cedar trees that overtake this land decades from now?

NOTE: Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, also called Chinese chives. Distinctly garlic in flavor; leaves are flat rather than round like regular chives. Originated from Asia, particularly northern China. Related to onions, etc. A member of the Liliaceae (Lily) family.


Friday, September 14, 2018

Fleeting Glory

The actual color of these beauties is a deeper purple, but the camera didn't pick it up. Grandpa Ott's morning glories.
Every morning I take my daily cup of tea or coffee onto the screened in porch where I meditate on the landscape before me. These days the sumac at the edge of the woods has taken on a bit of red. In a few weeks all of the sumac foliage will be brilliantly scarlet.

Trees still adorned in green rise behind the sumac; I think I see a bit of color in the green canopy, however. In front of the sumac the black raspberries lean on the trellis and stretch their canes down, hoping to touch tip to ground and take root (something I keep trying to discourage).

Long beans cover a trellis at the front of the vegetable beds on this side of the house. One end of that trellis is studded with rich purple morning glories -- Grandpa Ott's morning glories that have gone feral. They climb the pallets and fencing that enclose my compost area, so their seed winds up in the compost and morning glories spring up everywhere. I weed out some, let some grow, and miss some when I'm weeding leaving glorious weeds.
Is this the Heavenly Blue morning glory? An appropriate name.

While they grow all summer and start blooming about mid-summer, they are at their most glorious in late summer and early autumn. At some point I must have planted morning glories other than Grandpa Ott's because this lovely sky blue glory has covered the wire cage that supposedly supports a purple tomatillo. That's ok, because the tomatillo plant didn't fare so well. At least it's been replaced by something pretty.

A trellis in front of my house boasts a differently colored glory, an incandescent pink. While the blue glories might be descendants of a variety appropriately named "Heavenly Blue," I have no idea of the variety name of the pink, perhaps I'll call it "Stunning Pink."

Shall I call this one "Stunning Pink" morning glory?
Whatever their variety names, morning glories (genus name Ipomoea) belong to the Convolvulacea family. A black sheep of that family is the nefarious field bindweed, as well as the hedge bindweed, two small vines with pretty trumpet flowers (just smaller versions of morning glory flowers). Unlike morning glories, the bindweeds are perennial and extremely difficult to eradicate -- one reason they are designated a noxious weed.

A sweet potato blossom.
Morning glories also are close relations of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), which produce a much more robust vine. And, yes, the vines that grow from our vegetable sweet potato roots also bloom, although not nearly as profusely as the morning glory vines. The ornamental sweet potato vines are possibly just varieties of this vegetable, but they are not tasty in any way, and I've never seen them flower.

To enjoy the morning glory blossoms I must get into the garden during the first part of the morning. By late morning they are closed and withering (except on cloudy days). Glorious as they are, their time is brief, impermanent.

And so they remind me, that while my "blossoming" is much longer than theirs, it also is impermanent. Everything I labor for on this land is impermanent. Once my hand no longer touches this place, everything will change.

At some point, I presume, human tending of this land will cease and Nature will do what she sees fit. Most likely the area will be covered by woody species -- first the sumac and flowering dogwood, an occasional hedge, elm or redbud, all of which will eventually be engulfed by the red cedars. Beneath it all, sleep the roots of an old prairie that began its days when the glacier retreated. As massive and powerful as that glacier was, shaping the hills and leaving behind gravel and large stones from places far to the north, it also was impermanent. Deeper down, the limestone bedrock tells the tale of an ancient seabed, now permanent in its impermanence. Beneath that, I don't know -- tales a billion years old. None of them permanent, yet the memory of all of these lies embedded in this land.

My tiny little piece of time here will go unnoticed in the sea of time. Like the morning glory blossoms, it will be brief. However, they flowers remind me to do my best to make it glorious.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Triage Begins


Raindrops on the plums.

These guys are ready to pick. They're not fully ripe, but in year's past I've learned that it might be a mistake to leave them on the tree too long. So I'll pick them and leave them out to ripen. Most of them will probably be dried. They are prune plums, after all.

Back to the raindrops... It's only been a little more than a week since our last rainfall, but two rains then totalled little more than a third of an inch. In all of July we received slightly more than an inch. And it's been hot. The water in my catchment tanks was getting low. As I started my weekly watering schedule yesterday I denied some plants their usual dose.

Hoping the rain forecast came true, I held off watering the asparagus and sweet potatoes, knowing they could withstand some dryness better than many other things in the garden. But the most critical decision was to hold off watering some of the tomatoes. It's time for triage.

I don't expect this to be a drought-breaker. We got just 0.61 of an inch this morning. It's a relief. It means I don't have to water as much today. But it's not a drought-breaker. The 10-day forecast calls for another good chance of rain in another week. However, too often we've missed out when the forecast was 80 percent chance, or just received a small dose. And often I've gotten excited about a rain chance just a few days away, only to watch the percent chance dwindle as the day nears. So this lets me kick back a little, puts more water in my storage tanks, but it's no drought-breaker.

So, yesterday, I decided I could let go of most of the Black Plum tomatoes. As always happens with this variety, they've started looking pitiful before all of the other tomato plants. Their leaves are turning brown, and some of the stems are dying. It does this every year at this time. This variety is so productive, however, that I've gotten about as many as I can stand by now. Quite a few pint jars of roasted Black Plum tomatoes have been stashed in the freezer for later. I'm OK with letting them go. I've earmarked a couple of plants for saving -- the best looking ones -- and next week I'll start taking down the rest. I actually like being forced to remove some of the tomato plants early. It saves me time later when cold weather kills the rest.
These squash plants are now compost.

I've already removed one patch of summer squash. They were very happy plants, in spite of the fact that the squash bugs were multiplying. They sprawled into the paths on both sides of their bed, in spite of my constant moving them aside, making travel down the paths difficult. Most important, though, was that I had a difficult time dealing with all the squash. Four more cluster of squash plants grow in another area and are hitting their peak production. I just couldn't anymore. The other day we invited a neighbor to take as much of it as he wanted. I saw him carry several armloads of squash to his truck. Still... more squash. The next day another neighbor picked a large basket full of squash.

Still, more squash. Yesterday I picked another large basket full of somewhat oversized squash and some smaller ones. Yesterday I steamed a bunch of squash that had been in the fridge for several days, and some of yesterday's smaller pickings. A small boxful of  will be shared with people at my husband's clinic. Today I sliced several of them to dry into chips. And I've still got more to deal with. Some (the round lemon squash) will be sliced and dried as chips; the long, green and yellow Zephyrs will become lasagna noodles. Bags of roasted and steamed squash, as well as squash grated for winter batches of "zucchini" bread, sit in my freezer already and I expect to add even more before all is said and done.
Lemon Squash; because of the shape and color.
It tastes like summer squash, not lemons.

When a friend on social media asked people to describe the past few weeks of this summer in two words most people replied with the obvious, "Too Hot," "Too Dry." My response was, "Mucho Squash," as that has been the dominant theme here, other than the weather.

And cucumbers. Lots of cucumbers. What do you do with all those cucumbers? We eat them almost every meal -- slices, chopped, and made into fatoush (a Mediterranean salad that features cukes). We use them in infused water with lime and mint. I've fermented cucumber dill pickles. I'm even toying with the idea of using them in stir fry, as suggested by a few other bloggers. But I took out one of my patches of cucumbers. The earliest one that was looking a bit rough.

Now that it's time to plant the fall garden, reducing the watering seems not just appropriate, but imperative. Anything that's either overproducing or not pulling its weight can go. I'll let the Black Plums go for a while, taking only what water falls from the sky. Then it's "off with their heads." For weeks I contemplated pulling out the purple podded pole beans. Then I saw tiny pods on the vines. Yesterday I picked quite a few. So even though they look really, really rough, they can stay for a while. Until I determine that they're no longer worth the water.

Triage.

Far from being a sad time, I feel rather excited about clearing some of the planting areas. I love the look of a recently cleared bed laid with fresh hay. Like spring cleaning, only in summer.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Waiter, There's a Bug in My Soup -- Can I have More?


Crepe myrtle supposedly is a favored food of Japanese beetles, but I haven't seen
any on my crepe myrtles.
Many gardeners I know have been talking about Japanese beetles this summer. They've hit some of us in plague-like numbers. They finally worked their way to Kansas (after accidentally being introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s) in recent years and their numbers are on the rise.

In the last few years I've seen a Japanese beetle here and there, but not so many I became concerned. Last year I heard about them attacking an apple tree and some other things at the Medicinal Plant Research Garden near Lawrence. But I wasn't worried.

This year they descended on Spirit Bird Farm in force, first becoming noticeable on the ripening peaches. This was a blessing in disguise. Because the beetles threatened to consume all of the peaches, I climbed into the trees to salvage what I could, as well as knock as many beetles as possible into buckets of soapy water (which quickly drowns them). This meant I got the peaches before the squirrels did (mostly). My harvest was much larger than last year's.Two quarts of diced peaches in the freezer may not sound like much, but it's more than double what I put away last year. Plus I've eaten fresh peaches and baked a pint-sized batch of peaches with ghee (clarified butter) and powdered vanilla. Extraordinary.

Then I found hordes of the shiny green beetles on the grape leaves, the okra, a tall wildflower called gaura, and some of the apple trees. They were not only eating the apple leaves but some of the fruit on the summer apple. These little beetles can't cut through an apple skin on their own, from my understanding, but took advantage of breaks in the skin made by birds or other critters. Then they converged on the vulnerable apple and ate a cavern into it. They've eaten on the Souvenir de la Malmaison rose a little, but not too badly, even though roses are one of their favorite foods.

So for the past month I've been focused on getting rid of Japanese beetles. Hand picking, insecticidal soap and neem oil, possibly pyrethrum are the organic methods. But they're like the rabbits -- kill a few hundred and there are thousands to take their place. Fortunately, according to a Missouri Conservation publication, the beetles usually disappear around mid-August.

Or is it fortunate?

After seeing the quantities of beetles I collected in the soapy water, my husband asked an inevitable question (inevitable in our household, anyway), "Are Japanese beetles edible?"

I wrote about eating insects last year, when we started looking at ways to diversify our diet and started munching on crickets and especially grasshoppers. When cooked, dried and ground, grasshoppers have a flavor somewhat like chili powder without the heat.
Japanese beetles on the underside of an okra leaf.

Anyway, the answer is, yes, Japanese beetles are edible. Rinse and cook them first, of course. But the answer to "How do we control Japanese beetles?" might just turn out to be "Eat them." So far the main info we've found is to confirm that the beetles are edible. We haven't found recipes, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out how to cook them, especially after our first foray into insect cuisine. Saute them, bake them, boil them. Then throw them into whatever dish strikes your fancy. I can see baked or sauteed bugs as a crunchy salad topping. Or dry and grind the cooked beetles and use them as a protein additive to soups, stews, and even baked goods. No one will know about your secret ingredient.

Their grubs, and those of the June bug and Green June beetle, also are edible. But the adults are much easier to gather.

The bugs are best collected in the cool of the morning or evening hours, especially when in shade, when they are more sluggish and less likely to fly. I've been knocking them into a wide mouth pint canning jar and slapping the lid on before they fly away. My husband just discovered the suggestion to use the upper portion of a plastic bottle inverted like a funnel into a jar. The bugs easily fall in, but can't fly out. That way I'm not constantly dropping the lid.

When I'm done collecting the beetles, I stick them in the freezer. An easy and humane kill.

So now that I've taken to looking at Japanese beetles as another thing to harvest from the garden, their numbers are decreasing. Figures. At least now I can almost look forward to their return next year.

Almost.



Monday, July 16, 2018

Summer...


Summer has matured into cicada song.

Yesterday evening I sat on the porch drinking in the magnificent colors of the waning day.

Pink-gray clouds floated against a nearly turquoise sky. The whole world was bathed in a golden light. All the other colors of the world shone with more intensity -- the straw that lines the side of the foremost raised bed became the color of true gold. The red blossoms of the royal catchfly almost hurt my eyes in their intensity.

And, of course, green glowed with brilliance in the golden light.

This was not the soft golden light that envelops the world at sunset in late fall and winter -- the light created by long, slanting rays of sunlight.

No, this light was created by atmospheric conditions hinting at a summer rain and storm -- at least the potential. This light had an energy that said "wake up."

I sipped my tea and watched the colors change.

Then I noticed the cicada song, not the constant drone of the full cicada season, but one buzz here, one over there... In the space between cicada calls I heard a distant bird song, then a frog croak.

A few nights earlier the air was full of frog song.

Now the cicadas, after a year underground, are emerging to live their last few weeks flying, singing, and mating. The cicada song pulled my attention so completely into the moment that I almost felt I'd stepped into a dream.

The golden light dimmed...
And the fireflies began dancing.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Triage


June blooms with typical profusion... sort of. The poppies are rather scarce this year. Previous years' photos show the "flower" beds along the house rife with poppies. I scattered plenty of seed in late winter. But it was dry. And kept on being dry. Still is dry. And no portent for it being wet anytime soon.

Tomorrow night's forecast holds a 50 percent hope for thunderstorms and rain. It could happen. But it's going to take more than one storm to break the drought.

So I'm pulling the plug on the broccoli. More accurately, I'm pulling the hose. The soaker hose I've been using to keep the broccoli hydrated will get pulled tomorrow and placed somewhere else. At some point you've got to ask yourself -- Is it worth the effort to keep the broccoli (or whatever) going?

At this point I've got to say that the broccoli isn't earning its keep. While I'm thrilled with each head of flower buds I take off the broccoli plants, it's not enough to be worth the water to keep it going. So the broccoli will be the first casualty of the drought... anyway, the first intentional casualty.

I made the mistake of putting the eggplants in the garden right before going away for a long weekend. They would survive better in the ground than in the tiny starter pots they were in -- and my husband would have one less thing to water while I was gone. We even got a little rain the first night I was gone, but the heat that followed burned the little plants. I've tried saving them with water and kelp solution. But I think it's time to give up on them... most of them, anyway.

I had planned to transplant a number of things this summer, but that's going to have to wait. Everything I've transplanted so far has been fried by the heat. Maybe it's alive, but I doubt it will be for long. I might go ahead and dig up the thornless blackberries, but I will hold them in pots in a shady spot where I can keep them well watered until fall. I ordered a bareroot Montmorency cherry tree (I couldn't pass up the deal -- $9.99 for the tree and just eight bucks shipping. You can't get a tree for $18 any other time). It's in a large pot of soil waiting for fall. I hope we're seeing wetter weather by then.

Speaking of fall, I'm now wondering just how much of a fall garden to put in. Should I reduce the size because of the lack of rain? Or will it start raining by then? It will soon be time to start the cabbages. I need to decide.

And I'm still waiting for my sweet potato slips to arrive. I'm almost afraid to plant them. Won't they just burn up in the heat? I'll try wetting the planting sites good before sticking them in the ground, cross my fingers and pray for rain. That's all I can do except keep the garden hose going.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

All Aflutter

These stately common milkweed plants (Asclepius syriaca) have flowered wonderfully this year. If you've never gotten up close and personal with common milkweed in bloom, I recommend that you do so. The pale violet-pink blossoms have an exquisite fragrance.

Fortunately these milkweeds -- as well as another stand of them a few feet away -- are readily accessible for a random inhalation. We also have a great view of them from our screened in porch, where we eat most of our meals during the warm months. So we can be entertained by the flutterings of various butterflies taking sustenance from the blossoms.

Most of the butterflies I've seen at the milkweed blossoms have been these little pale, pale blue ones (below), and the majestic orange and black fritillaries. I'm not absolutely certain which fritillary this beauty is -- Kansas boasts five different fritillary species -- but it might be the Great Spangled Fritillary.

I have seen one Monarch
supping at the flowers. Just one. Even if I hadn't seen the one adult Monarch butterfly I would know that the milkweeds have been visited by at least one Monarch female. Otherwise, how would this little guy (see below) be chewing on the buds? I've also seen a few of these caterpillars crawling along looking for someplace to hang their green and gold chrysalises.

After I explained the Monarch's relationship with the milkweed, he began calling these "sacrificial" plants. Indeed, they are. I plant them for the caterpillars. But I get to enjoy them, as well. So far the caterpillars haven't done much damage to the plants, although a couple of much smaller ones have been defoliated and are just crooked stems.

This is one of the reasons for planting native plants, to feed the native critters, which recognize these plants as food, where they might not find some of the introduced plants palatable. And butterflies tend to lay their eggs on only one type of plant, although the adults can sip nectar from almost any nectar-producing blossom. In this case, Monarch caterpillars only feed on members of the milkweed genus -- although I recently read that they will use another plant in a pinch, but I forget which one.

The population of Monarch butterflies has decreased dramatically in part because we've stomped out milkweed populations. Besides feeding the Monarch babies, these beautiful prairie plants also sustain adults of other native butterflies and bees. Last month a cluster of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) was skeletonized by little spiny caterpillars, which I discovered were the larvae of the small, Silvery Checkerspot butterfly. Go ahead and plant zinnias for the adults to drink from, but plant some nursery plants, too.

The butterflies (and the birds and other critters they feed) will thank you.